In honor of Pvt. Nathan R. Oakes, CSA

150 years ago, my great grandfather, Nathan Richardson Oakes, served as a private in Company D of the distinguished 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in the Army of Tennessee. He participated in the great Civil War campaigns, including the battles of Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, and Bentonville. I am writing about his engagements as well as some details about fighting for the Lost Cause. I hope to honor him and commemorate the events and individuals that contributed to making this a renowned unit in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bragg's army takes up position at Tullahoma

As Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg's army retreated from Murfreesboro, Gen. Cleburne's Division, which included my great grandfather's 32nd Mississippi Regiment, marched about 55 miles to Estill Springs, Tennessee. Although slowed by extreme fatigue and hunger, and by travel on a cold and muddy road, they arrived at Estill Springs on today's date in 1863. Two days later, they moved 8 miles northwest to Tullahoma, behind the ridge known as the Highland Rim, where Lieut. Gen. William J. Hardee's corps set up winter quarters on the south side of the Duck River, about 35 miles miles south of Murfreesboro. Here the men finally found some relief in tent shelters during the winter.

The 2 opposing armies were separated by a range of foothills, almost mountainous in height. Through these hills ran roads that connected Murfreesboro (where Rosecrans's army was headquartered) and Tullamoma (where Bragg's army was centered). The roads crossed these hills in 3 steep gorges:  Hoover's, Guy's, and Liberty Gaps. These would become strategic points in the coming conflict in June.

Civil War historian, Michael R. Bradley, notes that Bragg didn't seem to have a definite plan for Tullahoma. On retreating from Murfreesboro, he had intended to occupy the line of the Elk River, but when Rosecrans did not pursue the Army of Tennessee, Bragg stopped Polk's corps at Shelbyville, ordered Hardee to send troops forward to Wartrace, and set up his army headquarters and supply dumps at Tullahoma. Small groups of pickets were assigned to protect the passes through the Highland Rim, and cavalry protected each flank, a front of almost 70 miles. Bragg' primary concern was that Union Gen. Rosecrans would advance his army to seize the strategic city of Chattanooga, a vital rail junction and the gateway to northern Georgia. Bragg spread his cavalry over a wide front because he was also concerned that Rosecrans might be able to turn his position, forcing him to retreat or to fight at a disadvantage. He assumed that Rosecrans's would eventually attack his left flank through the easily crossed Guy's Gap in the direction of Shelbyville.

Confederate lines at Tullahoma following the retreat from
the Battle of Stones River
Source: War of the Rebellion Atlas

Bragg should have understood the importance of keeping the enemy off the strategic Highland Rim, a high terrain surrounding the Nashville Basin in all directions. Bragg would have done well to have prepared a second position along the line of the Elk River from Bethpage Bridge to Allisona Rridge. His left then could have projected along the Elk toward Fayetteville, while his right could have been on the Cumberland Plateau, blocking the roads from McMinnville to Chattanooga. This second line could have protected the important rail link to Chattanooga. One of Bragg's mistakes following the Murfreesboro retreat was in choosing Tullahoma as a point of concentration. While Tullahoma had a network of roads and railways, it did not have any natural terrain advantages and could be flanked easily, cutting off the railroad.

Over the next several months, Hardee's Corps will be fortified at Wartrace, a stop on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, 8 miles northeast of Shelbyville, and 15 miles north of Tullahoma. There they are protecting the main road to Chattanooga. Hardee's corps, including Great Grandfather Oakes's regiment, is positioned to reinforce the other 3 passes through the Highland Rim—Bell Buckle Gap, Liberty Gap, and Hoover's Gap.

At the same time, another ancestor, Great-Great Grandfather David Crockett Neal, was serving Gen. Van Dorn's cavalry corps (6th Tennessee), assigned to protect the wings of Bragg's army at Tullahoma. Bragg placed his cavalry to protect the front and flanks of his army, assigning Van Dorn to the left and Wheeler to the right. To Wheeler's command he assigned Morgan's, Wharton's, and Martin's divisions. Forrest's command was assigned to Van Dorn. Some important events took place during the first six months of 1863, that had a bearing on the fortunes of the Army of the Cumberland. At this time, Great-Great Grandfather Neal was serving in Brig. Gen. F. C. Armstrong's Brigade in Van Dorn's Corps.

Sources: The Third Battalion Mississippi Infantry and 45th Mississippi Regiment: A Civil War History, David Williamson; Tullahoma: The 1863 Campaign for the Control of Middle Tennessee, Michael R. Bradley; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist

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